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Laurie Chen, with Rebecca Bailey in Hong Kong

China's Xi doubles down in triumphalist Congress speech

Despite an intensifying rivalry with the West and a slowing economy, Chinese President Xi Jinping has doubled down on his policies. ©AFP

Beijing (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping doubled down on his policies at the opening of the Communist Party Congress, pledging continuity on cornerstones of his decade in power as he seeks to secure a historic third term, analysts say.

Since coming to office, Xi has transformed China by personalising and centralising power, cracking down on corruption and dissent, pushing a more assertive foreign policy and promoting domestic self-reliance in technology and the economy.

Despite alluding to challenges in his speech on Sunday, Xi projected an image of an innovative and strong China, progressing on its own terms and unlikely to change in the coming five-year term.

His report to the Congress "was unambiguously about continuity", tweeted Joseph Torigian of the American University's School of International Service.

"Although historic, this Congress will almost certainly not signify fundamental new policy directions."

Under Xi, China has imposed strict zero-Covid policies, despite their heavy economic toll, while his more assertive foreign policy has sparked disputes in capitals across the world.

Beijing's ties with Washington have soured further in the last five years, while the West has grown louder in its criticism of China's policies towards Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

But Hong Zhang from the Ash Center of Harvard Kennedy School noted that in Xi's report to the Congress, there was a "distinct overall tone of triumphalism".

'Chinese modernisation'

The Chinese leader strongly suggested in his speech that Beijing could act as an alternative to the West, saying: "Chinese modernisation offers humanity a new choice for achieving modernisation."

The University of Glasgow's Holly Snape told AFP that this is the first time the term "Chinese modernisation" has been used in a Congress political report -- which "doubles down on the notion of there being a Chinese way of doing things: a 'Chinese style' of modernising, political system, democracy, rule of law etc".

Also significant, Snape said, was an increased emphasis on science and technology, with Xi stressing greater "self-reliance and strength" in the area.

Iris Pang, ING's chief economist for Greater China, said this echoed the "technology war" ramped up by US President Joe Biden's moves in August to boost the semiconductor and other high-tech sectors in the United States.

Since then, Washington has brought in new export controls, which Beijing alleges "maliciously block and suppress Chinese businesses".

But for all Xi's bullishness about financial strength, the economy is beset by problems.

Stuttering under the weight of Covid restrictions and a real estate crisis, on Monday, China announced it was delaying the release of its quarterly growth figures, expected to be some of its weakest since 2020.

But Xi gave no indication that the zero-Covid policy would be loosened, instead focusing on how the Communist Party had put "the people and their lives first".

National security 

Though he stated economic growth was the top priority, Xi emphasised the need to "ensure both development and security".

"A focus on security is unmistakable," said Torigian, pointing to Xi's line: "National security is the bedrock of national rejuvenation."

The prevalence of the term "national security" is characteristic of Xi's tenure -- analysts at the China Media Project noted that mentions of the term had increased from four in the 2012 Congress speech given by his predecessor Hu Jintao, to Xi's 17 in 2017 and 27 on Sunday.

Under Xi, dissent has been quashed at home and in Hong Kong, and stronger rhetoric and actions have been adopted towards Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Xi's speech gave "no new signal of greater urgency than we have seen in the past" when it came to Taiwan, said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund -- though she did point out a "somewhat greater emphasis on warning foreigners to not interfere".

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